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Onnoghen: Appeal Court Withholds Judgment on Four Appeals

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Justice Walter Onnoghen has five pending appeals before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, but none of them was decided before he was convicted and removed from office by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

Onnoghen filed the sixth appeal on Thursday to challenge his conviction by the CCT.

The appeals were filed within the three months the historic trial of the ex-CJN lasted.

One of the five pre-judgment appeals Onnoghen filed on March 29 to challenge the CCT’s decision to dismiss his no-case submission has not been heard as the defence and prosecution have yet to exchange briefs on it.

While four out of the six pending appeals were heard on February 27,  the Court of Appeal continues to withhold its judgments on them about seven weeks after the verdicts were reserved.

Speaking with our correspondent on Friday, one of the lawyers in Onnoghen’s legal team, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), confirmed that with the one filed on Thursday to challenge the conviction, there were six appeals relating to the trial at the Court of Appeal.

He said, “Before the judgment on Thursday, we had five appeals. But with the one filed yesterday (Thursday), we now have six appeals.

“Out of the six appeals, four have been heard, but judgments have not been delivered despite having been heard many weeks ago.”

Asked on Friday if the defence team had received the date for the judgments, Uche said, “no”.

Although the constitution gives a court a period not more than three months to deliver its judgment or ruling after the hearing of any application or a suit, Onnoghen’s legal team and aides have been expressing concerns about the delayed judgments of the Court of Appeal.

Onnoghen’s lead defence counsel in his trial at CCT, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had in The PUNCH’s earlier report expressed disappointment with the development when responding to our correspondent’s enquiry.

He said, “We are highly disappointed that the Court of Appeal has not delivered its judgments on the appeals by the CJN despite the far-reaching constitutional implications of the appeals.

“This is a case that affects the judiciary, but things have slowed down at the Court of Appeal.”

But the prosecuting counsel, Mr Aliyu Umar (SAN), who led the Federal Government’s team to oppose the appeals at the higher court, had also in The PUNCH’s report dismissed the concerns expressed by the defence in an interview with our correspondent.

“The Court of Appeal has three months within which to give judgments, and they are still within their right, as long as they don’t exceed three months,” Umar said.

One of  Onnoghen’s four appeals already heard by the Court of Appeal challenged the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the non-declaration of assets charges instituted against him before the CCT.

Another appeal challenged the February 23 ex parte order which President Muhammadu Buhari relied on to suspend him as the CJN  and to appoint Justice Tanko Muhammad as the acting CJN on February 25.

The third appeal challenged the CCT’s refusal to be bound by the orders made by the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court directing the tribunal to halt the CJN’s trial.

The fourth one asked the court to set aside the arrest warrant issued against him by the CCT on February 13.

On February 27, a three-man bench of the court led by Justice Steven Adah finally heard the four appeals and reserved judgments, after the cases had been previously adjourned on three occasions.

Justice Adah, who led Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson and Justice Peter Ige on the panel, said the date for the judgments would be communicated to the parties when the judgments are ready.

But seven weeks after no date for the judgment has been communicated.

The remaining two appeals yet to be heard are the ones challenging the March 28 ruling of the CCT, on Onnoghen’s no-case submission, and another challenging the judgment of the tribunal which convicted him on Thursday.

The three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar after convicting Onnoghen, ordered his removal as the CJN and the Chairman of both the National Judicial and the Federal Judicial Service Commission.

The tribunal banned him from holding any public officer for a period of 10 years.

The tribunal also ordered the forfeiture of the money in the five bank accounts which the defendant failed to declare as part of his assets in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

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Ahead Ekiti APC Primary: Seven Gov Aspirants Withdraw, Call for Cancellation

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Former Minister of Works, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, and six other governorship aspirants on the platform of the All Progressives Congress have withdrawn from the party’s primary election in Ekiti State.

Others, who withdrew, according to a statement on Thursday, are a former governorship aspirant, Kayode Ojo; Demola Popoola; Femi Bamisile; former House of Representatives member, Bamidele Faparusi; National Assembly member, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele; and Afolabi Oluwasola.

They alleged that the primary election committee is made up of loyalists of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, claiming that the governor is attempting to impose former Secretary to the State Government, Biodun Oyebanji, as the Ekiti APC governorship candidate.

This is as some members of the party protested against the process of the governorship primary election scheduled to take place on Thursday (today).

The statement read, “The seven aspirants herein received with rude shock and dismay the purported list of local government election committee and ward election committee made up solely by party members and political appointees that had before now openly endorsed the candidacy of Biodun Oyebanji the immediate past secretary to the state government.

“It is on record that the government of Governor Kayode Fayemi has given its unwavering support to the candidacy of Biodun Oyebanji, it is common knowledge that the Governor and most appointees of the governor are openly rooting for and supporting Biodun Oyebanji’s aspiration to become the flag bearer of our great party.

“What is more disturbing is the fact that a simple glance at the names of the persons appointed as members of both committees would reveal that it is made up of appointees of government who are all supporters of a candidate in the primary election they are appointed to superintend on.

“The seven candidates herein are loyal, faithful and committed party members who are sincerely concerned about the chances of the party in the forthcoming 2022 governorship election where an imposition is allowed to override a democratic primary election for determining its flag bearer.

“We request that both the local government election committee and ward election committee that were constituted on the list already in circulation be disbanded and replaced with names that would reinforce internal democracy and uphold the aims and objectives of the party.”

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Senate Passes Bill Empowering FG to Seize Illegally-Acquired Assets

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he Senate has passed for second reading, a bill seeking to allow the Federal Government to seize assets acquired by corrupt public officers, terrorism financiers, among others.

The legislation is titled, ‘A bill for an Act to Make Comprehensive Provisions For Seizure, Confiscation, Forfeiture and Management of Properties Reasonably Suspected to Have Been Derived From Unlawful Activities.’

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Suleiman Kwari, in his lead debate, said the proposal passed first reading on March 16, 2021, and was also listed among the versions of bills of interest contained in the recent communication from the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to the National Assembly.

Buhari had last week appealed to the parliament to pass three anti-corruption bills on proceeds of crime, whistle-blower and witness protection.

The Senate had on Tuesday passed the Witness Protection Bill for second reading.

Kwari said the main objective of the bill was to provide for the establishment of a department in the relevant organisations to manage forfeited assets.

According to him, the department would provide for an effective legal and institutional framework for the recovery and management of the proceeds of crime, as well as civil forfeitures in non-conviction based sentencing.

He said, “This bill further makes provisions for restraint, seizure, confiscation and forfeiture of property derived from property unlawful activities; any instrumentality used or intended to be used in the commission of such unlawful activities; and for non-conviction based procedure for the recovery of proceeds of crime.

“The bill’s other objectives are to strengthen the criminal confiscation procedure by ensuring that the total benefit from a person’s criminal activity is calculated and an equivalent amount, where recoverable, is confiscated on behalf of the Federal Government.

In his submission, Senator Smart Adeyemi, stated that it had become expedient for government to go after anyone who cannot account for how they acquired their properties.

“In supporting this bill, Mr. President, I hold the view that the people who have acquired their properties legally and with good funds have no cause to fear,” he said.

The Deputy Majority Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi said, “I think it is our duty to support such a law, but it must not be done in a manner that at the end of the day, when you have somebody that does not mean well, you have given him a weapon to go after his perceived enemies. I think that is where caution has to come in.”

Senator Stella Oduah, who is under the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, however, kicked against the bill.

Oduah said, “For very brilliant senators such as us, we cannot be seen to pass a bill which we haven’t thought through and that is not in line with best global practice. We shouldn’t play ostrich with this bill. We are going to create a situation where conflict of interest within establishments will continue to exist. Subjectivity in handling issues will be the subject of the day, and innocent Nigerians will be made to be victims of this law, and laws are not supposed to be like that.

“Laws are supposed to stand the test of time. This bill will not stand the test of time because it will be very subjective.”

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, after the second reading, referred the bill to the Joint Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes; and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

The joint committee was given four weeks to report back to the Senate in plenary.

Meanwhile, a bill seeking to broaden the functions of the Public Complaints Commission also scaled second reading on Wednesday.

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Conduct Fresh Probe into Kyari’s Link to Hushpuppi, PSC Tells IGP Baba

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The Police Service Commission has directed the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, to deepen investigations into the connection between the suspended erstwhile head of the Intelligence Response Team, Abba Kyari, and an internet scammer, Abbas Ramon, commonly known as Hushpuppi.

The commission, it was learnt, gave the IG two weeks to turn in the report which would be reviewed by the PSC Standing Committee on Discipline.

The directive to the IG was sequel to the advice from the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.

A four-man Special Investigation Panel headed by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigations Department, Joseph Egbunike, had earlier probed Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police.

Kyari had been suspended in July 2021 for alleged involvement in a $1.1 million Internet fraud allegedly perpetrated by Hushpuppi and four others; AbdulRahman  Juma (Abdul); Vincent Chibuzo (Kelly); Rukayat Fashola (Morayo); and Bolatito Agbabiaka (Bolamide).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had alleged that Hushpuppi paid $20,600 to two bank accounts allegedly provided by Kyari on January 20, 2020.

Kyari denied wrongdoing.

The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday that the AGF said the facts contained in the police investigation report were not strong enough to convict the DCP.

Malami was said to have informed the commission that the police investigation on Kyari was not water-tight and that more facts were needed to establish the relationship between the ex-IRT commander and Hushpuppi, who is awaiting sentencing after striking a plea bargain deal with the United States authorities.

Based on the AGF’s advice, the commission was said to have asked the IG to carry out a further probe into Kyari’s relationship with Hushpuppi.

A senior official, who confided in our correspondent, stated, “The advice from the AGF is that the case needs further investigation; that the evidence produced on Abba Kyari was not enough to convict him despite the fact that they have established a prima facie case against him. But the facts cannot convict him in the court of law.

“So, the police report was returned and the IG was asked to set up a special panel to look at the case. We have given them just a short period of two weeks to turn in their report.

“The final report is expected to return to the standing committee which will review and send recommendations to the plenary where the final decision on Kyari will be taken.”

Meanwhile, spokesman, US Attorney Office for Central District of California, Thom Mrozek, has said Hushpuppi would be sentenced on February 14.

According to BBC Pidgin, Mrozek, however, did not state the jail terms, which is expected to be between 10 and 18 years.

“He may be subjected to removal from the United States once he completes his prison sentence,” he said.

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